National Geographic : 1927 May
WILD FLOWERS OF THE WEST T HE 32 color plates accompanying this article, and the biographies describing the wild flower life of the Pacific Coast are from the brush and pen, respectively, of Edith S. Clements. She has caught the spirit of the flowers alike with her pigments and her pen. While the majority of the Pacific Coast flowers have never been able to cross the deserts and climb the mountains which separate them from the Mississippi Valley and the Atlantic seaboard, most of them have such close affinities with eastern wild flowers that their differences are apparent only to the trained botanist. This is true alike among the buttercups, violets, mallows, geraniums, heaths, gen tians, phloxes, mints, roses, peas, honey suckles, asters, lilies, and other families represented, and the eastern reader will find many a delightful surprise in com paring these western flowers with those familiar in his own fields and forests. In nomenclature it was decided to fol low the author's preferences. Both in the matter of family groupings and common names, there is a wide range of opinion among botanists. For instance, some scientists make the lily family include the lilies, the lilies-of-the-valley, the trilliums, and the smilaxes. Others subdivide the plants into two, three, and even four fam ilies. Gray classifies all four groups as the same family. United States Govern ment botanists set up three families-lily, lily-of-the-valley, and smilax; Britton and Brown subdivide them into four different families, setting up the trillium group as worthy of family rank. Similar dif ferences of opinion exist with respect to the rose family, the crowfoot family, and others. The same situation applies to the choice of common names. One authority will call Epilobium angustifolium great willow herb; another denominates it fireweed; a third blooming sally. Some authorities call Isonmris arborca bladderpod; others propose the name burro-fat. The story of the descent of flowers, as graphically shown in Plate I and as re lated in the body of the preceding article, represents the conclusions of many bot anists who have specialized in the field of floral relationships, and constitutes a working hypothesis which ascertained facts seem to justify and upon which further researches are being made. By EDITH S. CLEMENTS With Illustrations in Color from Paintings from Life by the Author CROWFOOT FAMILY Rainunculaccac Buttercup (Ranunculus californicus Benth. Plate II, figure I).- From February to May, low grassy hills near the coast of California and southern Oregon are spread with a cloth of pale shining gold, as the buttercup comes into bloom. The tall, loosely branched stems sway in the breeze with slender grace, bearing near their tips open clusters of many-petaled, fragile blossoms that reflect the sunshine from polished surfaces. But they will disappoint anyone who gathers an armful, for the glossy petals fall quickly and the beauty of the bouquet is gone, even though the buds may continue to open after the stems have been placed in water. The flowers of buttercups spread their pollen lavishly for all comers, but bees buzzing abroad in search of honey must seek diligently for the nectar hidden in glands at the base of the petals. As they tumble about busily, the pollen-laden anthers brush against their bodies, covering them with yellow powder. Away they fly to visit other buttercups in quick succession, never satisfied until replete with honey and loaded with pollen. Some of the flowers are older and, instead of depositing pollen on the bee, remove some that he already carries, for the group of pistils in the very center of the blossom now have sticky tips that come in contact with the powdery mass on legs and body. This is a wasteful method of securing cross-pollination, but if the flower had learned better it would not be a simple buttercup. Buttercups are lovers of sunshine and, shun ning the shadows of the woodlands, care not whether their roots are in the drier soil of roadside and mountain meadow or in the mud of marsh and pond. They often seem quite un like in their various homes, but it has been possi ble by means of careful experiment to grow some of them in different situations and make them indistinguishable from each other.